In this one-woman show, Joanna (Laura Shoebottom), wears a superwoman outfit; the universal symbol for heroism. Like most superheroes, she faces her fair share of battles. However, hers are uniquely much smaller in scale and slightly more complex in nature.
Joanna battles against an endless heap of paperwork; her self-centred work colleagues; and her mother, who doesn’t seem to know how to support her daughter’s struggle with anxiety. Despite the breathing exercises and the meditation, Joanna isn’t quite armed to face her demons at first. But rather than combat these with superhuman strength, these conflicts seem to require a different kind of bravery.
This show’s title is quite the mouthful and can be shortened to ‘Social Anxiety: A Modern Play’. As far as subject matters go, it’s not immediately the most appealing to centre a show around. You witness Joanna’s ugly stream of thoughts and her crippling self-esteem as she bemoans her annual review at work, the team bonding retreat and more.
At the start, it does feel like the audience is expected to indulge in the pity party during the show’s hour running time. However, the play takes a turn as Joanna explains:
“I’m fed up with being the bigger person and pretending I’m ok, when I’m not”
With that, the show elevates to something a lot more revealing. Just as superheroes conceal their true identity, we see that Joanna conceals her emotions from those around her on a daily basis. But in conversations with her therapist, who can be heard through a voice over, we see an honest depiction of someone who is barely coping. This isn’t just an endless moan, these are the cries of someone who is not ok.
Although we’re often advised to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, prevailing societal attitudes such as these can often be at odds with someone who suffers from anxiety. Joanna is told by her colleagues to just ‘lighten up’. Even as an audience member, one may feel inclined to retort ‘just be more positive’, ‘things are going to turn around’. But as we see how easily panic settles in if Joanna doesn’t arrive to work on time, or we see her need to rehearse conversations in front of the mirror – it’s apparent that what she’s dealing with can’t easily be resolved by ‘putting on a smile’.
Laura Shoebottom delivers a moving performance as she channels the anxiety-ridden Joanna. Her self-penned show provides an unfiltered look at what it’s like to suffer with social anxiety, and how even a journey on the tube can bring on a rush of unwelcome panic.
Anxiety UK reports that 1 in 10 people are likely to have a disabling anxiety disorder at some stage in their life. Although groups are increasingly more vocal about the importance of good mental well-being, it’s still a stigmatised area of discussion. The play doesn’t give us any answers and it may not have a traditional story arc, but it does succeed in confronting its audience with the realities of this mental health condition. It’s a much needed reminder that strength comes in different forms and not all superheroes wear capes.
Cast: Joanna – Laura Shoebottom
Production: Director – Liam Ashmead, Writer – Laura Shoebottom, Lighting and Sounds – Chuma Emembolu and Daniel Foggo, Sound Designer – Phil Matejtschuk and – Chuma Emembolu